Baking Days: Disappearing Cupcakes and the Recipe Jackpot

I did resolve to update my blog once a week, right? It’s technically the next week after my last post so this counts.

It feels like forever ago, but last Thursday I made another recipe from my cupcake book – Chocolate Candy Cupcakes. I picked them because again, Mom wanted me to use up what we had left in the fridge. This time we had buttermilk. (My stepfather needed it for some crazy sandwich recipe he wanted to try…to paraphrase Alton Brown of “Good Eats” fame, that’s another blog post.) We also had leftover chocolate from the holidays.

This marked my first venture into cupcake filling. It consisted of cream cheese and chocolate bars, which I broke up with my trusty meat mallet given my non-existent knife skills. I never realized how useful meat mallets are in baking.

Anyway, these turned out…delicious. I dare say they’re the tastiest cupcakes I’ve made so far. My mom even said so without any prompting. They disappeared literally overnight – all eighteen were gone by Friday. This recipe also marks the first time my sister asked, “Can I bring some over my friend’s house?” Given how picky teenagers can be, I was extremely flattered.

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The only thing I would change is the amount of candy bars in the filling. I used less than the recipe called for due to a moment of confusion, so I think using the right amount would cut down the (subtle) tang from the cream cheese and buttermilk.

On Friday I baked again, this time whipping up another Cream Cake to bring with me to my aunt and cousin’s house. So far it’s the most relaxed and confident I’ve been when making anything. The recipe really is so simple, plus it’s one of few times I’ve made a recipe more than once. My relatives loved it. At my other aunt’s house for Sunday dinner, we asked again about my grandmother’s elusive Orange Chiffon Cake recipe.

That’s when my aunt brought out her recipe boxes. Dozens of ancient index cards and newspaper clippings, separated into categories with frayed rubber bands. My cousin and I spent an hour going through each one. Not only did I find the cake, I also found the Italian anisette cookies we used to make for Christmas. I pulled some more that looked interesting and took pictures with my phone.

At first I wanted to make them right away, but I might save some of these for special occasions. I’ll probably leave the Italian Cookies for the holidays. Then again my cousin wants me to make the Orange Chiffon for her birthday in July, so maybe I should start practicing now.

Baking Days: In Honor of My Italian Grandmother

The last time I stayed with my relatives, I went through my aunt’s recipe folder. Among the newspaper and magazine clippings were her own handwritten recipes, or those from other family members. Two in particular caught my eye: Cream Cake and Italian Cheesecake, both in my grandmother’s faded handwriting. They had to be from the ’40s or ’50s. The Italian Cheesecake even called for “pot cheese,” an old term for ricotta.

My father’s mother passed away in 2011. I’ve never tasted any of the famous cakes she made for special occasions, since she stopped making them before I was born. My mother still waxes nostalgic about Grandma Millie’s Orange Chiffon Cake. I wanted to start with that because my mom loves it so much, but since my aunt hasn’t found the recipe for it yet, I decided to try the Cream Cake first.

Fair warning, I’m not including my grandmother’s recipes here. I doubt they’re secret, and it’s not like my blog is so popular, but I feel funny sharing them in the hopes of getting a few clicks. I’ll just say that the ingredient list for Cream Cake is surprisingly simple: eggs, sugar, salt, flour, baking powder, heavy cream and vanilla.

I worried so much about making this cake. Aside from sentimental value, it’s traditionally baked in a Bundt pan. We all know the horror stories about Bundt pans, right? Cakes sticking, refusing to emerge until you finally have to chip it into pieces and make a trifle or something. I’d received one in my Christmas bag of goodies but viewed it as my baking final exam, something to put off until I’d tackled everything else.

But I wanted to make this Cream Cake. I reasoned I wasn’t making this for anyone else, just an everyday treat for my immediate family, so it didn’t matter if I messed up.

I still greased and floured the hell out of that Bundt pan. I think I used a whole tablespoon of butter.

One unique element about this cake is what I call the “Ugly Duckling” batter. At first I worried I messed up, because the eggs and sugar mixture looked like it separated as soon as I stopped mixing. Even when I added the flour it seemed odd. But when I folded in the whipped cream everything came together. The batter took on this gorgeous smooth, fluffy texture and golden brown color. I should’ve taken a picture but I was so relieved I just poured it into the pan.

After a good amount of fretting while the cake baked in the oven, I took it out and flipped it onto a cooling rack. The moment of truth:

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And it’s good! It even tasted good! The crunchy top, mushy underside and fluffy cake all work together. The recipe’s classic and retro but also delicious. I might start making it for birthdays just like my grandma did.

While we’re on the subject of Italian recipes, here’s the tiramisu I made with my mom since we had Mascarpone cheese. For this we just used the recipe on the package of ladyfingers. We agreed that it needs more flavor (I didn’t want to flambe the rum, another cooking technique I’d rather put off) and the bottom layer had too much coffee. It’s tasty with fresh whipped cream though. We’ll  make some adjustments whenever we try again.

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Baking Days: Oreo Crumb Cookies and Sour Cream Cupcakes

Happy belated New Year everyone! Once again I spent the holidays with my relatives in Staten Island. And once again, I stayed a few days longer than planned. Seriously, my older cousin never wants me to leave. We have a running joke that I can move into their third floor loft any time I want.

Maybe it’s not a joke. We’ll see what the future brings.

Anyway, I’ve been telling everyone about my new hobby. I received a couple of dessert recipe books for Christmas, plus a bag of baking stuff from my mom – cupcake carriers, NEW measuring cups, etc. My aunt gave me the piping bag set I picked out. Let’s not forget my wonderful grandmother who wants me to relieve her of her stand mixer because it’s taking up too much space in her condo’s kitchen. Santa Claus was very good to me this year and I couldn’t wait to get started.

While staying at my aunt’s house, I whipped up these “Cookies and Cream Cookies” from my new copy of The Cookies & Cups Cookbook. I didn’t even realize it was a companion to a blog, I saw it at Barnes & Noble and thought the recipes looked fun. Making these cookies at someone else’s house freaked me out a bit because my aunt and cousin hung out with me while I mixed up ingredients. I’m very close with them, but you still don’t want to make a mess in someone else’s dining room. When I’m home I bake and clean up after myself before my mom gets home from work.

Putting on my own little cooking show caused nerves, which I guess caused my cousin to ask how much I’ve actually baked. At least the cookies came out delicious so I didn’t have to hear about that. Plus we all had a good laugh when my aunt (who has Parkinson’s, meaning she has no strength in her hands anymore) crushed the Oreos with a gigantic meat mallet that had to weigh a couple pounds. This was after she stubbornly refused our suggestion that she use a rolling pin instead.

…I’ve learned if you don’t laugh at some situations, you just end up crying way too often.

Here’s the end result. They looked like blobs but they were addictive. My cousin even mentioned that you could probably throw anything into this batter and it would turn out delicious.

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When I finally got home I made “Chocolate-Sour Cream Cupcakes” from The Big Book of Cupcakes, which my other cousin gave me. Light, fluffy, also addictive – the lightest cupcakes I’ve made so far. After a couple days they’re even gooier and remind me of your typical Hostess snack cake. They’d probably be amazing with a little marshmallow cream in the center.

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Family Time

It’s easy to feel out of the loop when you’re working full time. As someone who used to have afternoon tea with my mom and aunt at least once a week, working until five every day was a little isolating. Sometimes over a month would go by before I saw my cousins. At least I could still stay at my other aunt’s house once in a while and spend the weekend away while getting to hang out with my Staten Island relatives.

So the major bright side of being unemployed is that I can do whatever I want, which includes seeing my family more often. I can stay at my aunt’s house during the week and have tea on Friday afternoons. I like knowing what’s going on in their lives and just…being there. Eventually I will have more of my own stuff going on like everyone else, but for now, this works.

Forever Grateful to Pandora

Thanks to them, I could listen to Doobie Brothers and Kansas while the MRI buzzed in the background. Sometimes the consistent buzzing even went along with the classic rock channel coming through my headphones. Only downside is I wanted to rock out when I had to stay still.

(For the record it was the first channel I thought of when the radiologist asked. Probably for the best since most other categories are hit or miss with me.)

Anyway, my doctor’s appointment afterward went well. I’m thrilled that BOTH knees need the LESS-intense surgery, where they only reconstruct the ligament instead of moving bone around the knee cap. Yay! I scheduled the first surgery for Friday, June 3rd. While I’m happy the recovery time will be less, I’m now nervous about the procedure (though as my family pointed out I’ve been through much worse). I’ve already scheduled an appointment with my primary care doctor for clearance, then I have to get a referral for a cardiologist since I haven’t been to one in years. I’m a little nervous about that part too. I will be pleasantly surprised if everything checks out and I actually get surgery on June 3rd.

Of course my relatives’ automatic reaction to the news is to ask whether I can go to the Atlantis resort with them in late July. Would I like to go and have a great time with my family? Absolutely! Is it realistic? Probably not. The doctor wants to do surgery on my stronger knee first so that she can get an idea of what to expect for the weaker one, which makes sense. The problem there is that I’ll have to rely on my weaker knee. If I go on vacation it will be tough to maneuver around. Immediately, shiny hotel floors with no traction and wet concrete around the pool come to mind. My family joked about getting a scooter for both me and my 70-year-old aunt, but I’m wondering if that will be enough. Will I be able to enjoy myself if I can’t do most of what I’d want to do? Would the money be worth it?

I have no idea. Truth be told, stuff like that is low on my list of concerns right now. I think I’ll work on my story for the rest of the day to take my mind off everything.